I’ve been in a weird head space lately. I was warned by my cancer counselor that this “limbo” feeling was coming as I transition from patient to survivor. I just didn’t expect it to feel so weird.
My days are pretty simple. Get up. Go to water aerobics. Visit the tattoo shop and talk to Gerry about any errands he needs me to run. Come home. Get dressed. Walk the dog. Run errands. Make dinner. Rinse. Repeat. I like the simplicity of it all … but as I get farther away from my cancer treatment I am starting to feel pressure to reconstruct.
Everyone asks me when I’m going to reconstruct – like it’s the obvious next step after you have a breast removed. Like “why wouldn’t you want to reconstruct? Don’t you want to be whole again?”
Well … truth is I’ve been thinking about deconstructing instead.
We went and talked to a plastic surgeon. It was our 2nd time going to talk about our options. The first time was right before my mastectomy. I was hoping I could find a way for the surgeon to save my breast – but when we realized that the tumor was as big as an avocado pit it was obvious to me that we needed to do a full mastectomy.
At the time I asked the surgeon if we should do both. I had a gut feeling that I wouldn’t like being asymmetrical but he talked me out of it. He suggested that it was too big of a decision to make and because I was already going to lose one breast that I should get used to it before I decide. Get through my chemo. Get through my radiation and then recover before I made any rash decisions.
I understand and appreciate what he was saying to me … but I wish I had listened to my gut because I find having one breast very uncomfortable.
The plastic surgeon looked at my remaining breast and asked me if I had had any work done to it. I said “Why? Because it’s so fabulous?” She agreed. She told me it was a beautiful breast and what a shame I had to lose the right one.
It’s true. My breasts (now breast) are beautiful. It’s probably the only thing on my body that I love. Isn’t it weird that I had to cut one off? Maybe the universe wants me to love the WHOLE PACKAGE!!
Anyway – the surgeon looked at my “area” and pulled on my love-handles and on my Buddha belly and told me I had a few options:
First important bit of information you need to understand:
Because I have had radiation – my “area” is forever compromised. It doesn’t matter if I wait a year or 10 years. It is FOREVER compromised. That means it won’t heal like the rest of my body would from surgery. So because of that she can’t just pop a breast implant in there and send me on my way.
First choice is: Latissimus dorsi flap
The latissimus dorsi flap moves muscle and skin from your upper back when extra tissue is needed.
The flap is made up of skin, fat, muscle, and blood vessels. It’s tunneled under the skin to the front of the chest.
This creates a pocket for an implant, which can be used for added fullness to the reconstructed breast. Though it’s not common, some women may have weakness in their back, shoulder, or arm after this surgery. The surgeon stated that it could effect my swimming/exercise and would require multiple surgeries. NO THANK YOU! Next.
My second choice is a: TRAM (transverse rectus abdominis muscle) flap.
The TRAM flap procedure uses tissue and muscle from the tummy (the lower abdominal wall). The tissue from this area alone is often enough to shape the breast, so that an implant may not be needed. The skin, fat, blood vessels, and at least one abdominal muscle are moved from the belly (abdomen) to the chest.
The TRAM flap can decrease the strength in your belly. The procedure also results in a tightening of the lower belly, or a “tummy tuck.” All the surgeons I have met have looked at me and smiled when they describe this procedure as a tummy tuck!! Who doesn’t want that??
The answer? ME!
It’s a 7-8 hour surgery with a 6-8 week recovery time. I asked my surgeon what the pain was like from this surgery and she said it was VERY different from the mastectomy pain I had. There was almost no pain when I had my breast removed but she said that recovering from 2x different surgeries on the same day can be quite painful – especially when recovering from abdominal incisions.
So besides the pain/suffering and recovery time – I have also seen in person a number of these surgeries and they all look ummmm… OK. I am happy for the women who are happy with their surgery but the majority of the women who I’ve met who have had this surgery are just “ok” with it.
None of them are over the moon about it and when I look at them – I just see an asymmetrical chest. These constructed breasts never looks like the other breast. I think it would drive me insane.
Third choice: Do nothing. Wearing a prosthetic.
Wearing a prosthetic makes my chest feel like it’s bruised (more on that later) so I can’t imagine putting something permanent under my skin that I can’t take off when I need a break.
So what are my choices if I decide not to do reconstruction. I can wear a prosthetic. I have tried all kinds of prosthetics. The first one I purchased was almost $500 and sticks to my chest wall. It fills my bra and once it’s under clothing it looks just like a real breast.
But my “area” is still so sensitive that I can only wear it for about 30 minutes before it makes my chest-wall ache. You know that rotten feeling when you press on a bruise? That’s what it feels like. So that expensive experiment went back into the box almost immediately. Worst money ever spent. Anyone need a C-cup prosthetic? I can give you a good deal on it.
I also purchased a $125 prosthetic silicone form that is lighter. It works pretty well but again the weight of it is uncomfortable against my chest.
I have now switched to a Handful Sports bra (love this bra) and a $13 foam insert. So far it works the best for me … and I have been trying to just get used to being a “uni-boob” but even a year and a half later since my mastectomy I am still uncomfortable in my body.
I don’t have one single day when I’m not thinking/feeling/stressing about wearing a prosthetic. Is it in the right spot. Is it high enough. Low enough. Full enough. UGH!
Fourth choice: Do nothing. Wear nothing.
I tried for a few months to just be a uni-boob. It doesn’t work. It’s just as uncomfortable for me as wearing a prosthetic.
So I started exploring “deconstruction”. I’ve brought it up with every doctor/nurse who asks me when I’m going to reconstruct. Almost all of them look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them I want to go flat. I feel like if I removed my other breast that it would be so much easier for me to move forward with my life.
I joined a group on FB called Flat & Fabulous. It’s women from all over the world who have had mastectomies talking about their experiences. A lot of them tried to do reconstruction and had issues because of their radiated tissue. Either they had complications from the surgery, difficulty healing their “area” and had to have multiple surgeries to fix or remove more tissue. Many of them have chosen to go flat and are finding ways to be empowered in their new bodies.
It’s been great to have a group like this to read about others experiences. It makes me feel less weird about wanting to deconstruct.
Breasts are like earrings. They come in pairs. For me – having one breast is like wearing one earring. It doesn’t work. Only Prince can get away with wearing one earring.
Breasts come in two and for me the “having breasts” part of my life is over. It’s done. But my life isn’t over.
I want to move forward and be comfortable in my body.
My mastectomy wasn’t easy – but it also wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Recovery was quick. I was up and out of bed walking around. I barely had any pain. When I think about having the other side done – it feels like the best choice for me.
I keep having daydreams about getting dressed in the morning. I throw on a tank-top and walk out the door. Easy breezy and rocking a flat chest. I know I can rock it.
I was talking to a friend about my choices and she said “But if you remove your breast – what if you regret it?” I don’t think she gets it. I am already missing a breast. Missing my other one is not that big of a stretch. And if I don’t like being flat – I can wear my $13 dollar prosthetic for both. I kind of feel like wearing 2x foam inserts would easier than one because they’d be the same.
Anyhoo… I’m still mulling things over. My therapist wants me to wait a year before I decide to do it. She suggested that having “procedures” seems normal to me. I’ve just spent the last 2 years having daily/weekly procedures done. But having major surgery isn’t “normal” and so she wants me to wait a little longer so I can really think about it.
Truth is I’ve been thinking about deconstructing my chest since I woke up from my mastectomy surgery…
One thing I have realized from all my cancer treatment is that I just want my life to be easy and comfortable. If it’s too much work or it makes me feel uncomfortable – I don’t want it in my life and this left-over breast of mine is getting in my way!